Tobler Creek in Fall

The Tobler Creek Trail snakes through the woods to the southwest of the main Andalusia property. It stretches ¾ of a mile and crosses the titular creek in two spots. It’s my first time walking this path.

It’s cold and bright today. I pull my coat tighter and cross the dirt road to the hill that leads down to the trail. The wind catches at the pond below, gentle waves play with the sunlight. The dairy herds of Andalusia used to cool off in these waters, lounging here during the summers of the 50’s and 60’s. I follow its bank, curve to the right and set off along the trail.

The trail starts as a narrow clearing, tall grasses frame its boundary. The first thing I notice is the silence. It’s a slow day here, not many visitors dare to brave this cold, and I find myself utterly alone. Sound carries far in this freezing air, but I hear nothing but my own careful steps on dry, dead leaves. The forest presses close. It’s like another world, or at least another place. Less than a mile away is a shopping center and Milledgeville’s busiest road, but here, right now, it might as well be a thousand miles away. I press forward.

The grasses fall away, and bare trees line the path. The ground is blanketed in leaves. Every step I take is measured and precise. I’ve been working at Andalusia for six months, long enough to know just how alive it is, how many animals still call this place their home. Coming to work at 8am, I startle grazing deer with my car. They scatter into the nearby woods, but, when the afternoons are slow, they return, and I watch them graze in front of the horse barn from the Gift Shop window. From that same window, I’ve seen chipmunks scamper around grasses and flowers, I’ve seen squirrels strip long threads of bark from the closest tree, I’ve seen a hummingbird dance in the air before a flowering bush, and I’ve seen the black stripe of a king snake slide across the dirt road. Who knows what all lives out here now? I’m curious, of course, but I’d much rather someone else find out first, and so my steps are careful and my eyes and ears scan for movement under the fallen leaves.

Now I reach the Tobler Creek. A rough wooden bridge spans its width. Luckily, it has not frozen in today’s cold. I settle against the handrail and listen for a time to its murmuring hiss. There are rumors that Tobler Creek was once used as a rum running spot by smugglers. I try to imagine bootleggers sending their merchandise down this path. I wonder if there were any moonshine stills hidden in these woods back then. I take a deep breath and keep moving.

I pass through more dense woods, the terrain here shifting into distinct levels. A shelf of earth coated in trees overlooks the trail. It reminds me of the place where the Misfit stood staring down at the old woman and her family.[1] There is more space between the trees here, and I can see the forest reach far beyond my sight. Flannery expressed surprise at learning Andalusia once bordered the Creek Nation,[2] and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve stumbled past that old boundary.

Over the second wooden bridge, I start my ascent back towards the pond. Tall trees dome the trail and I feel like I’m walking through the curved hallway of a cathedral. The dome falls away and I’m back at the pond. I can’t see the light dance its surface from this angle, but I can see the Main House rising over the top of the hill, its brilliant white façade like a beacon, and I can’t help but wonder at all the things Flannery saw from her perch above.

[1] Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” in The Complete Stories, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971), 117-133.

[2] Flannery O’Connor, Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988),  300.

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